Côte d’Ivoire’s lethal striker Souleymane Coulibaly may have equalled the record for goals scored at a single FIFA U-17 World Cup final tournament on Thursday, but his side's 3-2 round-of-16 defeat against France means he can no longer add to his nine-goal tally. Still in the hunt, in contrast, are his two closest pursuers, France’s Yassine Benzia (five goals) and Brazil’s Ademilson (four), whose sides are preparing to meet Mexico and Japan in their respective quarter-finals.
FIFA.com has already covered part of the story of these two attacking starlets [click on the links on the right-hand side], neither of whom featured in their coaches’ initial plans for this competition. Since making the cut, the duo have made the most of their late inclusions and hit the ground running at Mexico 2011.
Benzia struck twice in France’s opening victory over Argentina, with Ademilson following suit against Denmark, and all of a sudden the secret was out. Their greater profile has no doubt earned them closer attention from opposing markers, but it has not hindered their performance levels – something French and Brazilian fans alike hope continues as tournament heads into the last eight.
Bursting onto the scene
Though he was not totally green at this level, Benzia had played in just two friendlies for his country – against Germany in 2010 and Congo this year – prior to Mexico 2011. And despite being top scorer for club side Lyon in the domestic league for his age group, it is his fine displays and flurry of goals on Mexican soil, particularly the brace in the comeback win over the Ivorians, that have earned him widespread acclaim and column inches aplenty back home.
“This competition is an extraordinary shop window, in terms of the lads becoming well-known worldwide. This is the case with Benzia,” France coach Patrick Gonfalone told FIFA.com. “He only broke into the team just before the World Cup and now he’s got a host of clubs keeping tabs on him thanks to his good performances here so far.”
Averaging a goal every 56 minutes since the competition began, Benzia’s ratio is impressive, particularly for a player who is not a typical penalty-box predator. But though the striker is able to play across the frontline, coach Gonfalone believes that the youngster’s professional future lies as a more orthodox No9, especially once his 1.78m frame fills out enough to withstand the rigours of rugged defending.
“I see him as a natural-born centre-forward, even though he is able to fill other attacking roles,” continued Gonfalone. “When he gets the ball 25 metres out he can score all kinds of goals. He’s not the biggest or the strongest but he’s got a goalscorer’s instinct and the intelligence to play in that position, as well as the ability to pull off something different, something creative. He’s got that knack of knowing how to find the net.”
Hot on Coulibaly’s heels
Slightly shorter in stature than Benzia at 1.75m, Ademilson does boast a more power-packed game than the Frenchman, with a style based on short bursts of pace and a stocky frame able to shrug off even robust challenges. “I’ve played in every game so far,” said the player, whose nickname in the squad is ‘Henry’ after former Arsenal and Barcelona star Thierry.
“I’m feeling good physically and am looking after myself by making sure I take on plenty of fluids after games so I can continue playing 90 minutes at this pace,” added Ademilson, who was likened to ex-Brazil great Romario by coach Emerson Avila.
That said, Avila also admitted to being pleasantly surprised by his striker’s impact, particularly since the group opener against Denmark marked his first ever appearance in the Amarelinha shirt. On top of his four goals, Ademilson has weighed in with two assists, thus playing a direct role in six of A Seleção’s nine strikes thus far.
Yet given the five-goal lead Coulibaly enjoys in the scorers’ standings it would take a remarkable purple patch to catch him, particularly as Brazil have a maximum of just three games remaining. “Souleymane is a great player, but let’s see if our boy can finish top scorer,” said Canarinha keeper Charles. “We’ll do what we can to make that happen, and he [Ademilson] is on the right track.”